Since the day he turned pro at age 17 in 2003, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. has had to carry that famous last name and the mountain of expectations that went along with it.
TV Lineup for the Golden Boy-promoted HBO PPV card on Saturday (9 p.m. ET) at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas:
•Super middleweights: Canelo Alvarez (48-1-1, 34 KOs) vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (50-2-1, 32 KOs), 12 rounds
•Middleweights: David Lemieux (37-3, 33 KOs) vs. Marcos Reyes (35-4, 26 KOs), 10 rounds
•Welterweights: Lucas Matthysse (37-4, 34 KOs) vs. Emmanuel Taylor (20-4, 14 KOs), 10 rounds
•Featherweights: Joseph Diaz Jr. (23-0, 13 KOs) vs. Manuel “Tino” Avila (22-0, 8 KOs), 10 rounds
His father, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., is the icon of Mexican boxing — a three-division world champion, a Hall of Famer and the most revered of warriors in a country where boxing is huge.
At times Chavez Jr., who also wore the famed red headband into the ring as his father did, carried the name well.
In 2011 he outpointed then-undefeated Sebastian Zbik to win a vacant middleweight world title and made three defenses against credible opponents, Peter Manfredo Jr., Marco Antonio Rubio and Andy Lee, whom he knocked out in the seventh round in 2012 in his most impressive victory.
Since that win, however, Chavez’s career and life have at times been a mess. He dealt with a drunken driving arrest, lack of interest in training, poor ring performances and constant problems making weight.
“I like my father to be around. It’s OK when he’s around. It’s just important for him to understand that he’s not my trainer. I picked Nacho Beristain, who is a great trainer, one of the best in the history of boxing. The reason I chose Nacho is that I think he’s a great Mexican trainer, and I think he has the correct character that matches with me.”
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
It came to a head in September 2012 on the weekend of Mexican Independence Day when he faced then-lineal champion Sergio Martinez. In a fight Chavez admitted he barely trained for, he was toyed with in a one-sided decision loss, though he scored a dramatic 12th-round knockdown and nearly pulled out a miracle comeback.
Chavez has fought only sporadically since, in part because of his breakup with longtime promoter Top Rank. He twice defeated Bryan Vera, but most thought he lost the first fight in which he missed weight. In 2015, Chavez, still lackadaisical about training, fought as a light heavyweight against contender Andrzej Fonfara and did the unthinkable, quitting on his stool in a fight he was losing badly.
Chavez has won two fights since, first in a shaky performance against Marcos Reyes in a fight in which he again failed to make weight and then in a much stronger showing against Dominik Britsch in December. He won a decision, made weight and seemed to turn things around.
That performance paved the way for a fight many have talked about for years, an all-Mexican showdown between Chavez and rival Canelo Alvarez, the former junior middleweight and middleweight champion and Mexico’s most popular active fighter.
They have had bad blood for years and will finally settle their issues on Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET) — Cinco de Mayo weekend — in what amounts to be the Super Bowl of Mexican boxing at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Chavez claims he is motivated for the fight and knows a win would go a long way to erasing all of the negativity that has engulfed his career in recent years.
“I’m very focused on this fight because it is a great opportunity for my career,” Chavez said through a translator. “I feel great to be involved in this event and show the world I can beat anybody. This fight is special and has motivated me to train hard. On [Saturday] I will be 100 percent.
“My father’s name will always be with me for what he accomplished in the ring, but when I fight Canelo, you can expect a guaranteed war.”
Chavez admitted he had thoughts of retirement after the loss to Fonfara and he was also disappointed in himself for his poor showing against Reyes.
“[Retirement] may have crossed my mind at some point, obviously after the Fonfara fight and the Reyes fight,” he said. “Those were two fights where I don’t think that I had the same amount of passion that I needed to have. But this fight is a lot different. This fight has created a lot of passion in me, a lot of enthusiasm, and I think that that’s the difference in this. [I’m] excited about this fight and I think that you’re going to see a different Julio that’s excited.”
Unlike with many of his previous fights, Chavez, 31, appears to at long last be taking a fight seriously. When it came to making the deal the camps had to agree on the weight since Alvarez, 26, has never boxed heavier than 155 pounds and Chavez has not been lower than 167½ since the fight with Martinez five years ago.
After much back and forth they settled on 164.5 pounds, making it dangerous for Alvarez (48-1-1, 34 KOs) because he will face a much bigger man but also rough for Chavez (50-2-1, 32 KOs), who has to do the one thing he hates more than anything in boxing: make a lower weight than he has in years. If he misses weight he’s on the hook for $1 million per pound he is over.
The weight situation appears to be under control. Chavez has regularly posted photos of himself on social media showing him to be in good condition as he makes his way to the contract weight. He insists he will make it and still be strong and ready to fight.
“I feel a lot better when I train hard and I’m focused, when I’m motivated as I am in this fight,” Chavez said. “Also, with regards to the weight, I’m close to making weight already and I’ve done everything I’ve been asked to do with regards to my diet. It’s not easy, but I know when I focus on my diet and when I focus on making weight, I can do it. I’ve done it before, and this is just one additional time I’m doing it.”
“I feel a lot better when I train hard and I’m focused, when I’m motivated as I am in this fight. Also, with regards to the weight, I’m close to making weight already and I’ve done everything I’ve been asked to do with regards to my diet. It’s not easy, but I know when I focus on my diet and when I focus on making weight, I can do it.”
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
When the fight was being negotiated, Chavez said he was confident that the weight debate would not be a reason why the fight wasn’t made if indeed it had fallen apart.
Chavez’s team tried to get the weight as high as it could but the fighter said in his mind he was ready to go down to 160 if necessary to make a deal.
“I always felt that 160 was a possible weight that I could make,” he said. “When we were discussing this fight, I didn’t think it was an obstacle because I knew that if I want it and I worked hard enough, I could go to 160.
“The only difference was it going to be a lot of work. I felt it was going to be a lot of work and it has been a lot of work. Therefore, 164.5, the weight that we agreed to, I never felt that it wasn’t possible. It was just going to be a lot of work to get there.”
Chavez Sr., who was in many huge fights, understands the magnitude of this one for his son.
“This fight means a lot, especially for Julio,” Chavez Sr. said through a translator. “We all know what Canelo represents in the world of boxing today. We expect a very difficult fight. Canelo has always been the stronger fighter inside the ring, but this time we think things are going to be a lot different because he’s fighting at a new weight.”
Chavez Jr. showed how seriously he is taking Alvarez by enlisting Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain, the legendary Mexican trainer, to prepare him for the fight.
Beristain is not one to take any grief in camp and Chavez has apparently been a good student.
“Mr. Beristain, he had me doing certain training and I did it. It was very difficult in the beginning getting used to this new regimen, but it’s something that I did,” Chavez said. “I followed it and I think that’s the difference in this fight.”
Chavez said it was his decision to ask Beristain to train him, knowing he needed a disciplinarian to help get him ready for his defining fight.
“I discussed it with my father and he immediately liked the idea,” Chavez said. “Nacho is a smart no nonsense trainer. For this fight Nacho is a perfect fit.”
“I like my father to be around. It’s OK when he’s around. It’s just important for him to understand that he’s not my trainer. I picked Nacho Beristain, who is a great trainer, one of the best in the history of boxing. The reason I chose Nacho is that I think he’s a great Mexican trainer, and I think he has the correct character that matches with me. I saw something in him, some type of connection, that I felt would be very good for me.
“It wasn’t easy making adjustments. Like anytime you have a new trainer, it’s a difficult transition sometimes. But I felt that throughout the camp, he taught me a lot of things, some things that I changed in my boxing, that I think are going to help me the day of the fight.”
It’s a fight Chavez acknowledges is the biggest of his career even though no titles are on the line. It’s about winning the battle for Mexican hearts and about pride.
“I want to prove to everybody that I still can fight at the very top levels,” Chavez said.